According to the Torah (5th Book of Moses 12:21) the only meat allowed to eat is that of certain mammals, birds and fish. With the exception of fish, the animals must be slaughtered ritually in accordance with the religious laws and practices.
This ritual slaughter is known as ‘shechita’ and must only be carried out by a specially trained expert – a ‘shochet’ - who has taken an examination and leads a particularly pious life. Shechita must only be performed on a living, healthy animal. The shochet must check the condition of the animal and make sure that the animal has really been slaughtered by the single stroke of a shechita knife. This is why any form of stunning is forbidden before the shechita takes place.
Making the cut
A special shechita knife is used to perform the slaughter. Its blade must be sharp and completely free of any imperfections. This is checked before every shechita. Before the shechita, the animal is laid down and the shechita cut is made such that both the oesophagus and the trachea are almost completely severed at the same time. During the cut, neither pressure may be applied nor the cut be interrupted. There must be no change in direction during the cut and there must also be no tearing. The schechita cut ensures that practically all the blood vessels in the throat are severed. This halts the supply of blood to the head, so that the animal very rapidly becomes unconscious, insensitive to pain and is quickly drained of blood.
After death, the animal is skinned and carved up. Before the meat can be regarded as kosher, the animal’s lungs and the surroundings organs must be inspected (a process known as ‘bedikah’). The rules for this procedure come from the Talmud. They are also to be found in the Shulchan Aruch, the codification of laws binding on Jews. Only then can a seal be attached to the meat certifying that it is ritually suitable, i.e. that it is kosher. This form of certification is known as a ‘hechsher’.
However, to render the meat suitable for use in Jewish cooking it is carefully rinsed and left to lie in water for half an hour to dilate the pores. Then all sides of the meat are covered with salt to draw out the blood. After a further hour, it is cleaned of the salt and thoroughly rinsed. Parts of the body containing a lot of blood, such as the liver, have the blood drawn out completely by being exposed to an open flame. Only then can the meat be prepared and consumed.
Numerous scientific studies have proven that shechita carried out in accordance with the Jewish religious laws complies with all the requirements of modern animal protection and can be equated with other humane methods of slaughter.